They came for a coronation, but they got something even better: chaos. And in the end, they got the coronation, too.
So it went for the hearty souls who spent Sunday afternoon following Brooks Koepka around Bethpage Black for the final round of the PGA Championship, on a day when the assumption going in was that there would be nothing else interesting to do.
The size of the crowd waxed and waned — packed near the beginning and end, thinner in the farthest reaches of the huge course — but the early tone was simple: respectful awe.
When Koepka hit a bomb off the tee at No. 4 en route to a birdie, someone in the gallery jokingly shouted, “Do you work out?”
Amateur golfers in the crowd repeatedly marveled at the power in his swing and the length of his drives.
When he birdied No. 10, it appeared there would be no drama at all. Tens of thousands of violations of the tournament’s cellphone policy against shooting photos and video near the golfers recorded it all for posterity.
Koepka smiled and tipped his cap at the encouraging words and ignored skeptics, including one who presciently yelled at No. 5, “Yo, Dustin [Johnson] is coming for you!”
Then came holes 11 through 14, and the “oohs” for Koepka’s big drives turned to more pained “oohs” for what appeared to be a meltdown of historic proportions in the making. He made four bogeys in a row.
When Koepka drove way left and near a tree on No. 13, frenzied fans gathered around his ball, then gathered around him as officials and Koepka himself tried to clear a path for him to hit.
It was a shocking moment for many fans, who did not expect that part of their experience would be seeing the man of the hour walking off the fairway and coming right at them.
After Koepka escaped the madness, dozens of fans compared their pictures and videos with one another, amazed to have gotten within several feet of the defending (and eventual) champion.
The fans on the more distant holes skewed relatively young, perhaps owing to the long walk the trip entails, or perhaps to the fact that tickets on the secondary market were going for as little as $20 on Saturday night.
But unlike at the 2009 U.S. Open, when Bethpage Black was covered in mud, walking conditions were favorable. So was the weather, which was cool and windy, thanks in part to the tournament moving from August to May.
After the bogey at 13, and with Johnson making a charge, fans hoping for a dramatic finish started chanting, “D.J., D.J.”
The tension peaked when Koepka bogeyed No. 14 and saw his lead fall to a single stroke. As he walked down the hill and crossed Round Swamp Road, he was trailed by hundreds of running fans, expecting a dramatic finish, many chanting Johnson’s initials again.
Many of them crossed the road just in time for Johnson to bogey the 16th hole and shortly before Koepka hit his tee shot on 15 into the fairway, restoring order.
When it became obvious that Koepka would survive his near collapse, he received warm ovations at the 17th and 18th greens, but it would be a stretch to call him a crowd favorite like Phil Mickelson or an icon like Tiger Woods.
The mood was back to where it began: Respect, and a bit of awe.